Our latest triathlon adventure has been a rather exciting one. At the beginning of October David and I travelled to China so that he could take part in Ironman 70.3 Chongming, Shanghai.
David decided on this event because it is one of the few 70.3 races where you can qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona. By this point in the year he had already raced one full Ironman and 3 70.3’s and physically and mentally he wasn’t in a place to put himself through the training for a full Ironman at this point in the season. If he was unsuccessful he would be in a position to attempt again to qualify in an Ironman early next year. So this seemed like a good option so late in the season.
Another draw to this Ironman was the fact that neither of us had been to China and Shanghai looked like such an amazing city. We were excited to explore. This race ticked all the boxes.
We only told our closest family and friends about our plans. This was for two main reasons. Firstly David wanted to avoid the pressure that came with publicising the fact that he was travelling to the other side of the world to try to qualify for Kona and secondly, the Visa process was not an easy one and we didn’t actually receive our visa until the Monday afternoon.. we flew on Wednesday. It would have been extremely embarrassing if we would not have received the visa and had to tell everyone we weren’t going afterall! This wait for the visa was extremely stressful especially for me as I had taken on the responsibility of arranging the visa. I reassured David daily that it would arrive but I genuinely didn’t know.
We flew direct from Heathrow to Shanghai and Ironman had arranged a transfer service for the athletes between Pudong Airport and our hotel, Xinchong, near the race venue, Minghzou Lake in Chong Ming, an island off Shanghai and about an hours drive from the airport.
Chong Ming itself isn’t a tourist area and despite the limited English in our hotel it was clear that they were not used to Westerners. From the chopsticks, to the Chinese man taking photos of me as I sat alone waiting for David to finish his reccee, to the restaurant at the race venue where the whole menu was in Mandarin symbols, to the family flocking around us, mouths agape as we bought bananas in the local grocery store… we loved it! We embraced the extra challenge of of trying to communicate, navigate and eat in the run up to the race. The fact that Google, Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Instagram are all inaccessible and we only had limited Wifi only added to the experience and we became rather attached to our guidebook and phrasebook!
Buses shuttled us back and forward to the race venue everyday and on the bus we enjoyed meeting and chatting to an array of athletes from all over the world. Professionals and age groupers all mixed together all trying to help each other navigate this alien country. From Australia to Russia to Ecuador.. of course the only rude athlete we came across had to be British! Typical.
David was relaxed but nervous before the race started. We both had this very strange feeling of “this is it.” We both knew he was going to succeed that day barring any disasters such as a mechanical or crash. Usually before a race we hope for some luck but that day we were both convinced that no luck was needed, this was going to be the race where it all came together. I waved David off with the words “nawr yw’r awr” one of my favourite Welsh phrases meaning now’s the hour or now’s your time.
God, we were excited but I was also extremely nervous. In a way I was more nervous than if I was doing the race itself. Usually the nerves disappear once the gun goes when you’re racing but when you’re spectating there is nowhere for that nervous energy to go.
I loaded up the tracker on my phone and couldn’t believe it when I realised that the Wifi at the park which had been so good in the last few days now required a Chinese mobile number to log in. There was no way I could not have the tracker, David was relying on me to tell him where he was in the race so I turned my mobile data on and tried not to think too much about the bill!!!
David was the 12th athlete out of the water in his age group and I managed to shout this information to him before sprinting around transition in time to see him get on his bike. The park itself was such an awesome venue for spectators.
For the bike I made my way out of the park and to the highway. This was a little more stressful. If you’ve ever been to China you will now that there is always police everywhere. I’d been carrying our passports with us all week as I had read that we could be asked for ID at any time. Of course I didn’t bring any with me today which was unfortunate because as I was about to cross the bridge I was stopped by a policeman and asked for my ID.. I explained that I didn’t have any but was told I had to have ID to cross this bridge! I flashed my Ironman wristband at him (which was actually just my ticket for that night’s banquet and presentation) and thankfully he let me through.
When I got to the highway that the athletes were cycling up and down I crossed over to join the rest of the spectators. There was a lot of drafting going on – especially with the pro men! You’d think they were a team in the Tour de France they were so close together. I excitedly watched David make his way up the tracker and my parents and David’s Dad, Roger, were texting me, keeping me company despite the fact that the race was taking place between 1am and 4am at home. So after the professional men went passed, the women then came through in dribs and drabs and before you knew it you had a large pelaton of age groupers. Shortly thereafter was David, completely on his own and behind him another group. I passed this on to Roger who reassured me that the reason David was on his own was because he was cycling faster than all of them. I had shouted this to David as he flew passed “ti sy gloia mas o pawb” (you’re the fastest cyclist) I hoped this information would give him a confidence boost.. turns out he hadn’t heard or seen me! That’s what happens when you’re cycling at almost 30mph I suppose.
I went to cross back across the road so I could see David coming the other way and was abruptly stopped by yet another policeman. Despite the fact I’d just crossed over he was not allowing anybody to cross back!! I walked up the road to the next crossing (as it was a highway road furniture meant it was only possible to cross in ceertain places) where still more policemen stopped me from crossing. Shit. How was I going to get back to the race venue?
I returned to where I was. I saw another Westerner about to cross and warned him not to, as he wouldn’t be allowed back. A member of Ironman’s staff heard this and explained to me that she had tried to get the Chinese marshalls to explain to the policemen that we needed to be able to cross back and forth but they are so scared of the police force out there they wouldn’t speak to them.
Eventually I took the plunge and just crossed the road.. my heart was pounding not knowing what this police man was going to do.. run after me, grab me, arrest me(!) all these thoughts were going through my head as I tried to casually stroll across the road! I made it! Checked my garmin, my heartrate was through the roof! This spectating business was getting more and more stressful. Soon, David was back, and he was at the front of the group, he’d managed to make up the gap and get himself to the front in the space of about 8 miles. As he headed out for his second loop and I saw him for the 3rd time on the bike I shouted at him that he was 5th.
Then the next disaster struck.. my phone provider blocked my 3G because my bill had reached its limit..! Luckily I could still text so I sent the same message to Roger, my parents and my sister asking them for updates and I have to say they were absolutely fantastic in keeping me updated on what was happening on the tracker. Teamwork and team Cole in action across the globe!
I was delighted to be able to tell David, as he passed me for the fourth time that he was now second! I was almost in the middle of the road shouting this information at him! I could see cameras pointing at me and a volunteer approached me with a bottle of water.. I think they thought I was crazy and needed to calm down, this blonde Westerner shouting her head off whilst about 20 other spectators just politely clapped! Haha.
I made my way back to transition and as David came off the bike and ran through transition I was able to run around the side with him, informing him that although he was still 2nd, 3rd was right with him. We were not sure how many Kona spaces there would be.. probably 2 but maybe 3 so we really needed David to finish in the top 2 to be safe. 1st was way off and had been from the start. As he exited transition David asked me about 1st and I told him of the 8 minute gap. The fact I had no tracker but still had all this information is a credit to Roger and my parents at home, where, by now, it was 3am!
The run was 3 loops of the lake. I positioned myself just after a feed station where I thought I would probably have the most time to pass any messages. I was also at the top of a tiny out and back of about 100m each way so I would see him twice here. 1 lap in and he had put 3 mins on 3rd place but made no ground on 1st.
Suddenly Roger and Nicola both text me to tell me I had to tell David to slow down. The last update had said that David was running 1.13 half marathon pace.. his PB off the bike was 1.20 so this was way too fast. I thought “shit , he’s trying to catch the Chinese” (i.e. the athlete in 1st place) we were all scared that he was going to blow up if he tried to do this. He needed to slow down and keep to his 1.20 pace and nobody would catch him.
As I screamed this information at David in a rather panicked fashion he looked rather puzzingly at his watch and ran off. Turns out there was a problem with the tracker and David wasn’t running at that pace at all. Luckily he didn’t listen to me and kept his pace!
As I waited for David to start his 3rd lap I was confident that second place was his. Finally, I was starting to relax. I stood in the middle of the path determined to get some good shots of him running passed but as he approached he didn’t look happy at all. “My left calf has gone” he said. He was limping. “what’s my gap?” I assured him he still had 5 minutes on 3rd, and at this point about 4.5 miles to go. But David put his head in his hands at this news, in total defeat. This worried me even more. I hoped his head hadn’t gone as well as his calf. I passed this information back home and I could feel the nerves coming all the way from Cardigan.
We had all been here before, David often has problems with his calves and usually with cramping but he had been managing them well last season. I began recalling Ironman Wales 2018 where David was in line for a Kona place before he cramped and was passed in the last 0.2 miles of the marathon. He missed out on Kona by 30 seconds. I couldn’t bare the thought of that happening again, especially as he was going so well until this point.
I stood at the finish line just hoping. There were to be no more updates between now and the finish, I was just waiting for the blue of his Xhale kit to come round the corner, frantically reading everyone else’s race number, checking that they were not in David’s age group.
I cannot describe that feeling of seeing him come round the corner, thankfully no one behind him, no sprint finish. I shouted “ti di neud e, ti di neud e!” (you’ve done it, you’ve done it!) and David was just ecstatic.
This race and result was not just the outcome of this training block, or even of the 2019 season but of years and years of training. David has gone from sitting on his road bike in the garage on the turbo trainer asking ME(!) to make up sessions – baring in mind I didn’t even ride a bike at this point, to starting training with Dylan at Cycle Specific who took his cycling to another level to finally being coached by Mark of Xhale who has developed David from a hell of a cyclist to an all round triathlete.. it’s been a massive journey. He’s done all of this whilst working full time too as a solicitor and director of George Davies and Evans.. and putting up with me! The relief and happiness of that moment is indescribable.
The banquet at the awards ceremony was incredible, the food was insane and we tucked into as much Chinese food as we could eat washed down by local beer. But as the slot allocation actually started the nerves again kicked in. For all the categories before David’s (30-35) there was only one slot! Shit, maybe we won’t be going to Kona after all. The familiar butterflies settled in, we’ve sat in so many ceremonies where David has missed out by one or 2 slots, I was starting to think it would be another one until finally we got to the category and there were to be 3 slots!! The winner didn’t actually take his slot so David took the 1st slot in his age group. We were over the moon! We are going to Kona!
The next day the celebrations properly started as we headed into Shanghai city centre and checked into the most amazing hotel. We headed down the famous Ninjang Road stopping off to taste all the weird and wonderful street food along the way.
That night we headed to the Bund and on a sight seeing boat trip up and down the river. Wow, the lights were spectacular and the photos do not do it any justice at all.
Finally we topped off. our day of celebrating in style eating at the Jin Xuan chinese restaurant at the Ritz. The restaurant was on the 53rd floor of the hotel and the view from our table was unbelievable!
For our last day in the city David took me on a walking tour of Shanghai, starting back at the Bund,
heading to the Old Town, before the Westernised French Concession part of the city.
That night we had another eyeopener at an Acrobatic Show. We saw all of this on foot, walking over 13 miles that day.. even after qualifying for Kona David just can’t sit still!
We loved Shanghai and would highly recommend this race and city to anyone who is up for the challenge of obtaining the visa and taking on the language barrier and different food!
For those who want the stats, David came second in his age group (30-35) and was the 5th age-grouper overall.
He finished the race in a time of 4 hours and 10 minutes.